Moussa Dembele came back to haunt old admirer Pep Guardiola with Lyon, and after Fulham and Celtic paved his path to stardom, a £60m move to one of Europe’s big guns looms next
- Moussa Dembele was the hero for Lyon in their victory against Manchester City
- The 24-year-old netted twice to seal a spot in the Champions League semi-finals
- Dembele has enjoyed success with Fulham and Celtic during his path to stardom
- The in-form striker may be on the move again with several elite clubs interested
Pep Guardiola collapsed to his knees on the touchline, consumed and deflated by the relentless mixture of agony and frustration that only elite football can provide.
His outpouring of emotions contrasted those of the magnificent Lyon players in front of him, all of whom were reduced to a wild frenzy after Moussa Dembele’s double capped off an evening that will live long in the club’s history.
The Manchester City boss could only watch on as his team crashed out of the Champions League quarter-finals at the hands of Ligue 1 opponents, his dreams of finally lifting the coveted jug-eared trophy once again shattered after a pulsating one-legged tie.
Moussa Dembele’s double for Lyon sent Manchester City crashing out the Champions League
The 24-year-old had starred during the quarter-final clash and netted a late brace for Lyon
He may not have been particularly surprised, however. The man responsible for City’s elimination was a player he had once endearingly labelled as ‘exceptional’, and who rose to the occasion and netted a brutal double.
The performance from the match winner in Lisbon confirmed what many have known for a long time; Dembele has ascended to stardom.
Guardiola’s endorsement came back in 2016, before Dembele lined up against his ranks for Celtic in a European dead rubber. The young striker was unable to muster up more brilliance on that occasion, but had scored twice in the reverse fixture just three months before to earn the Scottish giants a thrilling point.
Pep Guardiola was consigned to another European setback by a player he called ‘exceptional’
Dembele’s formidable ability in front of goal and sheer desire to take on opponents with every deft twist and turn have helped mould him into one of the world’s most-wanted strikers.
His memorable journey to the very top of the sport has traversed disappointment in Paris, a testing spell in England’s lower leagues, glory in Scotland and eventual success on the European stage with his current club.
The 24-year-old was born in Paris and had been handed his fledgling steps at the city’s premier team, PSG. He spent eight years progressing through the academy system, stretching from 2004 to 2012, but found his development brought to an abrupt end at the tender age of 16.
Despite the flood of millions pumped into PSG from Qatar Sports Investments in 2011 transforming the club’s on-field fortunes, the new-found focus on recruiting the world’s best players proved to be the death knell for many young stars’ futures in the French capital.
Dembele moved to Fulham in 2012 after investment at PSG saw chances for starlets restricted
Dembele found himself amongst those who departed in search of a new challenge. That arrived in the form of Fulham in the Championship. The risk of dropping into the English second tier for guaranteed regular action paid off spectacularly, and soon paved his way to bigger and better achievements.
The French forward made his first-team debut against West Ham in November 2013 and rapidly became a fan favourite. His stellar performances at both senior and youth levels also caught the eye of several top clubs, with Tottenham attempting to swoop during his final season in London.
An impressive tally of 19 goals cemented his spot as one of the highest-rated talents flourishing in the country, a sentiment that Huw Jennings, Fulham’s academy director, agreed with.
The Frenchman made his first-team debut in November 2013 and soon became a fan favourite
He told BBC Sport: ‘When Moussa was 16 there was no doubt he possessed all the raw ingredients you look for in a striker. What stood out for me was not only what you could see on the pitch, but a calmness and assuredness off the pitch.
‘It is not easy coming across from a foreign country at a young age, and the thing Moussa has had to demonstrate more than any others is resilience.’
But the club were aware they would not be able to keep hold of Dembele forever. The attention registered by several potential suitors piqued the youngster’s interest, and he soon settled on his next ambitious switch following three years at Craven Cottage.
A four-year contract was signed, and Dembele headed north of the border to join Celtic. The fresh-faced forward gleefully declared he had put pen to paper to become part of a ‘massive club’ and signalled his bullish intention to play in the Champions League.
Celtic came calling for Dembele in 2016 and he netted a memorable hat-trick against Rangers
The frontman said he was joining a ‘massive club’ and desired to play in the Champions League
His ambitions had immediately been sky-high, but all were realised across his two years in Scotland. Dembele helped Celtic seal the memorable Double Treble, but saw his relations with boss Brendan Rodgers eventually sour before his big-money move to Lyon.
The Frenchman became an instant fan favourite at Parkhead, in a similar style to his heroics at Fulham. He netted a hat-trick against Rangers, just three of the 51 goals he plundered across 94 appearances for the club. Those performances will live long in Celtic’s folklore, and Dembele still keeps a keen eye on his former side’s progress to this day.
When asked to cast his mind back to his time in the Scottish Premiership, Dembele affectionally labelled Celtic as ‘the greatest club in the world’ and credited them for playing a key role in his development.
But, as with most footballers, Dembele believed he had finally reached the ceiling at the club. The unsavoury breakdown between the striker and Rodgers saw him join Lyon in 2018 for £19.7million.
A breakdown between Dembele and Brendan Rodgers saw the striker move to Lyon in 2018
Dembele posted a series of cryptic tweets which hinted towards problems behind the scenes
A series of cryptic posts from Dembele on social media laid bare the frosty mood surrounding his move, with Celtic having initially remained steadfast in their refusal to allow him to leave.
‘A man, without his word, is nothing. A real man keeps his word,’ is how Dembele chose to hint towards the stand-off in the days leading up to his wish to jet out to France being granted.
The transfer was rushed through over the course of two days, both of which were consumed in chaos. His first few months at his new club, however, were mired in uncertainty and frustration.
Dembele was often forced to settle for a place among the substitutes under Bruno Genesio’s stewardship, with Memphis Depay instead deployed through the middle of Lyon’s formidable frontline.
After moving to France, Dembele was forced to wait patiently to become a regular performer
Having been forced to wait to impress his new set of intrigued supporters, Dembele ensured he would seize any opportunity handed to him in spectacular fashion. His consistent and impressive cameos off the bench eventually saw him shoehorned into the starting line-up.
Dembele has always been a deeply ambitious individual, and openly expressed his desire to become a regular performer during his tough spell watching on from the sidelines.
He admitted to having been enticed in by the ‘project’ laid out for him before joining Lyon, and also appreciated the work conducted by the French club to wrap up what conspired to be very difficult negotiations.
Two years on, and Dembele’s calculated risk has paid off once again. The French ace helped his team-mates knock out City and reach the semi-finals of the top-tier European competition, taking his tally for the campaign to 24 in the process.
The highly-coveted ace scored 24 goals this season and is also wanted by several elite clubs
And unsurprisingly, speculation has mounted over where Dembele’s short and long term future will now lie. In January, Lyon were forced to publicly denounce the rumours linking their prized asset with a move away and insisted that the player was not for sale.
The statement may have been viewed as a drastic course of action designed to put an end to the countless reports stating otherwise, but it now appears to have dawned on the Lyon hierarchy that Dembele may well be on the move again in the coming weeks.
It has been suggested that club president Jean-Michel Aulas, who is widely regarded as a fearsome stickler for value during negotiations, has even conceded that the striker could leave.
Juventus and Manchester United have been linked with moves, but both may be forced to stump up a sizeable package with Lyon reportedly holding out for £60m despite the coronavirus outbreak throwing the current window into uncertainty.
Lyon are reportedly holding out for £60m but accept they may not be able to keep Dembele
Dembele’s lethal showing against City proved the striker would adapt well to a new challenge
If his past history is anything to judge by, Dembele is well suited to quickly adapting to another competitive European league.
Any move that materialises this summer has been truly merited, and his determination to taste success wherever he goes will ensure his reputation as one of the continent’s most feared frontmen remains intact for many years to come.
The lethal showing against City, one which downed the tactician who helped further introduce him into the public eye all those years ago, proved this in the most cold-blooded fashion imaginable.
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